Talking Story

Hawaiian Pidgin

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Here’s da ting: according to Lee A. Tonouchi, “People BORN Pidgin, gotta be free for LIVE Pidgin.”

He’s not wrong.

In this short treatise derived from his real world experiences in mastering and teaching English in Hawaii, Lee Tonouchi—Da Pidgin Guerrilla—demonstrates that not only Pidgin speakers CAN, they CAN with eloquence, intellectual rigor, and knuckles bruised in schoolyard scraps, call out the biases endemic in anti-Pidgin rhetoric and the cultural erasure politics of the myth of Standard English.

But da buggah wen tell ‘em more bettah in Pidgin, yeah? More easy for unnastand without all da haolified words and phrases.

Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture by Lee A. Tonouchi and published by Tinfish Press is a scholarly dive into what makes a language, who are its guardians and keepers, and how language is identity. Don’t let the size of this book fool you—the thoughts and ideas run wide and deep in this collection of talks and concrete poems.

Like Lee, I learned early on that Pidgin speakers were more defined by perceptions of what they couldn’t do than the realities of what was possible. I’m passionate about islanders telling their own stories in their own words. And as any Hawaiian islander will tell you, when it comes from the heart, it’s in Pidgin.

Fo’real.

Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture by Lee A. Tonouchi is available in paperback from Amazon.

From the first page, I felt like I was back on Maui.

When I was a kid, my mom used to work for Longs Drug, a store with a pharmacy and a little bit of everything from snacks and groceries to cosmetics and fishing lures. Mom was an accountant, usually in her office upstairs and behind the one-way mirrors that ringed the back of the store and looked out at the shoppers below. My sister and I waved at ourselves in the mirrors like idiots every time we walked in.

Occasionally, when they were having a big sale or short-handed, Mom used to cashier. Back in the ’70s, people worried less about titles and job descriptions and more about keeping a job. On big sales weeks when she knew she was going to cashier on Saturday, she’d make us quiz her on the items and prices as we cleaned house, folded laundry, did the dishes. She had to know the ads cold because back then there were no scanners or bar codes.

And planny people get huhu if the haole lady cashier no can remembah if Spam was 32 cents or 43.

I loved it when Mom brought home foreign coins mistakenly spent by tourists and accepted by cashiers. (Really? This one has a hole in it, five sides, and is bigger than a quarter. How did someone not see this?) I kept them in an old mason jar on a shelf in my room. But my fondest memories of the years she worked at Longs are about Easter. Every Easter Sunday, the whole store had a potluck picnic at the beach. The store managers–half-baked from too many Primos and not enough pupus–had all the kids run relay races, and the winners got baskets with chocolate Easter bunnies bigger than their heads. I never won the big baskets, but I can still taste melty, waxy chocolate and the hard yellow sugar eye from the Palmer’s runner-ups.

So I feel like I know a little bit about the kinds of folks who shop and work at Longs.

But not as well as Lee Cataluna.

In the pages of Lee’s collection of flash fiction stories, you’ll find neighbors, friends, aunties, uncles, and even local, ahem, collection workers and former disco queens. They’re all there, shopping for unmentionables, looking for love, and just trying to get through one more day. Lee’s gift is the complete picture she draws with minimalist brush strokes. We fill in the details, the backstories, the motivations, and the ultimate consequences and conclusions to her stories because these people are us. Lee has a fine ear for Pidgin and she uses it to bring to life people that we immediately recognize as prep school kids, tutus, popos, thugs, cops, and everything in between.

And the stories are bus’ laugh hilarious, poignant, and true. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Folks You Meet in Longs and Other Stories by Lee Cataluna is published by Bamboo Ridge Press and is available as a paperback and eBook from Amazon. Click on Lee Cataluna to find out more about her and her amazing stories on her website.

 

lanai_smalllānai

(LAH-naheye)

(n) Hawaiian for porch, patio.

Example

English: They like to set those kinds of glass balls on their coffee tables, but I’m only going to sell the small ones. The big ones are for us. They’ll ;ook nice on the patio.

Pidgin: They like those popo aniani for put on the coffee table. But I only going sell the small kine. The big kine’s for us. Look nice on the lānai.

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

 

sandboardingkolohe

(koh-LOH-heh)

(v) Hawaiian for mischievous, naughty, a rascal.

Example

English: Mitsy laughed. “Oh, Kahana! How I delight in your rascally nature! You haven’t changed a bit!”

Pidgin: Mitsy laughed. “Oh, Kahana, you still kolohe, ah you!”

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

Before Jay saw the Niuhi Shark in One Boy, No Water he used to think sharks were no big deal. Hard to believe, yeah?

spot_boardI watched Jay make his bed. “Going surfing?”

“Yeah.”

“Early, yeah?”

“That’s when the waves best.”

“Meeting Frankie?”

Jay grabbed a t-shirt off the floor. Through the shirt he mumbled, “Later. He no like surf before dawn, the panty. He comes an hour or two after sunrise. He says his mother makes him do chores, but I know the truth. He’s scared of sharks.”

I thought about what I knew about sharks and decided Frankie had a point. “They come in at night to feed, yeah? In close to shore.” I said.

“So they say.” Jay picked up the sunscreen from under the dresser.

I cocked my head at him. “You not afraid?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No. Terrified,” Jay confessed.

“You ever seen a shark? I mean, out there, surfing?” I asked.

“Couple times.” He paused, sunscreen white on his nose. “Plenny times. I seen them along the reef bottom, cruising out by first breaks at Nalupūkī.”

“Fo’real?” I asked.

“Yeah, fo’real.”

“How big?”

“Small. Baby kine. An occasional bigger one, two to three feet. Once, I seen one about nine feet, longer than me on my board. Mostly black tip reef.” Jay shrugged. “Not too big.”

“Big enough.”

He nodded. “One time when I dove under a wave I seen one out in the distance, a hammerhead. Had to be twelve, maybe fourteen feet.” He shook his head. “That time I got out.”

I watched him take an old beach towel from the back of our door and toss it over his shoulder. “Why?” I asked. “If you know they’re there, why surf at all?”

Jay turned to me, chewing on his bottom lip, choosing his words carefully. “Don’t tell Mom, yeah? But one time, I was hanging out with some seagulls, just floating out past first breaks when I saw a shark go after a bird that was floating right by me. The bugger was so fast! He hit the bird and swallowed it before the bird even knew it was coming. I was sitting on my board not fifteen feet away and the shark went after the bird. He’d rather have a mouthful of feathers than a chunk out of me. That’s when I knew.” His eyes held mine. “I knew then that it didn’t matter if I was surfing in the early dawn or high noon, in shallow water or deep, by myself or with choke guys. If a shark wanted me, it would have me. There’s nothing I can do, except stay out of the water. And I can’t do that.” He looked down. “If no can do nothing, waste time being scared, yeah? And I no like waste time when the waves are pumping. Besides, everybody knows sharks only like white meat. Good thing I’m tan.” He grinned and opened our bedroom door.

“Jay,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Be careful, yeah?”

“Always, brah, always.”

All excerpts and short stories copyright © 2012 by Lehua Parker. Excerpts from the Niuhi Shark Saga by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. No part of these short stories may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

airplaneWhen I was nine I flew all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah from Honolulu, Oahu all by myself. I had to change planes in San Francisco, but I wasn’t worried. I had my snacks, a couple of good books, and I looked forward to the movie—any movie—on the plane. The stewardesses matter of factly handed me off to each other, and sitting in their airport lounge waiting for my last flight was eye-opening and educational, although I still don’t understand why bras that make points are better than bras that curve.

It’s amazing what people will say if you’re quiet and holding a book.

Everything was 5 by 5. I was flying under the stewardesses’ radar and hearing all about Brad and Belinda and something about a layover and cockpit that didn’t involve airplanes when I decided that what this live-action play needed was a couple of snacks. I pulled out a sandwich bag, untwisted the tie, and started to munch.

“Oh, #*^&*@#$^%$! What the hell is that?” screeched a southern bleached blonde with pointy tips.

“Cuttle fish,” I said, using my best company manners to shake the bag open wider and holding it out toward her. “You like?”

“@#$^&*@#&%$%^!!!”

Wow, I never know that was possible, I thought, filing the phrase away for future reference. Does that mean yes or no? “It’s ‘ono. I mean, it’s good. Packed fresh this morning.”

“Relax,” laughed a perky brunette, “I’ve tried it before. It’s dried and shredded squid. They eat it in Asia.”

“Fish jerky?!” The southern belle’s painted on eyebrows couldn’t go higher.

“No,” I said earnestly, thinking of beef jerky. “Jerky’s hard and tough. This is soft and kinda salty-sweet. A little chewy. You like?”

She shuddered and closed her eyes, the cat eyeliner and turquoise lids reminding me of King Tut. “I need a drink,” she said.

The brunette laughed again and reached under a counter for a mini bottle. “Hair of the dog?”

“A whole poodle, if you’ve got it.”

I thought about my other snack bags filled with kakimochi, iso peanuts, and crack seed. Should I bring those out to be polite? I wondered. Nah, I decided, anybody who eats dog hair but turns up her nose at cuttle fish doesn’t deserve them.

Book 2 is heading to the copy editor where all the commas get put into the right places!

Until then, here’s a little taste of One Shark, No Swim.

full_9_bigI climbed on the toilet tank and stuck my head out the window. The drop was near the front door to Hari’s store. A little below me and to the left was the hand railing for the upstairs lānai that ran along Uncle Kahana’s living room. I was pretty sure I could make it.

Pretty sure.

I was holding onto the window frame hugging the outside wall with the ball of my right foot resting on the railing when I heard a plop. I looked down. A young haole girl with a sunburned nose was looking up at me. A large yellow and orange shave ice was melting at her feet.

“Mom!” she yelled. “There’s a naked boy covered in lipstick climbing out a window!”

I froze. I couldn’t go back and I couldn’t go forward.

“Jeanie!” a woman’s voice scolded from the store.

“Mom! He’s got weeds wrapped around his ankle and wrist!”

Please, let me die and end this, I prayed. But whatever happens, please don’t let anyone show up with a smart phone or camera. If this gets out I’ll never live it down.

“Go away!” I mouthed at her.

“He wants me to go away!”

“What did I say about telling stories?” the woman said.

“But Mom, this time it’s true!”

I sensed more commotion under me, shadows and light flickering like schools of fish on the reef. I peered down.

“Jeanie! Look what you did! Your snow cone’s all over—” the voice trailed off.

Bleach blond hair and mega-sized sunglasses stared up at me. I closed my eyes.

Next to me the sliding door swept open and a strong brown arm wrapped around my body, lifting me over the railing and onto the lānai. Uncle Kahana leaned down.

“Aloha! So sorry about the shave ice! Tell the girl at the counter Kahana said to give you a new one! On the house, of course! Have a nice day!”

As he pushed me through the open door and into living room I heard the woman say, “Hush, Jeanie, hush! I told you it’s another culture! The whole island is like going to Chinatown in San Francisco. Now do you want a free snow cone or not?”

All excerpts and short stories copyright © 2012 by Lehua Parker. Excerpts from the Niuhi Shark Saga by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. No part of these short stories may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

ewa_which_way_cover

‘Ewa Which Way by Tyler Miranda peels back the bandage of what adults think adolescence is like to expose the raw, oozing strawberry of reality. I loved this book for its ability to show all the complicated rules, expectations, and entanglements of being a 12-year-old boy trying to make sense out of adult behavior. Set in ‘Ewa Beach, Hawaii in 1982, Landon DeSilva and his brother Luke know that lickins can fall from the sky like lightning, that a certain side-eye from a parent means a storm’s coming, and that sometimes no matter how long you hold your breath you can’t escape, but have to endure the wave to the end.

For Landon, things are bad at home, but not bad enough. Not enough for child protective services to swoop in and spirit Landon and Luke to a new home, not enough for the cops to do more than show up when his parents’ fights wake the neighbors, and not enough for his mother to realize her marriage is over. Throughout the novel Landon tries to figure out what he’s supposed to do when there’s really nothing he can. His parents’ troubles are deep—there’s guilt, prejudices of class and race, loss, alcohol abuse and valium popping coping mechanisms, unfulfilled expectations, and sheer dysfunction. Landon sees it all with the clarity of a twelve-year-old and his reactions and understandings are heartbreaking and true. Adult readers will read not only the story, but all the words and character motivations between the lines. It’s powerful, immediate, and like a bloody scrapped knee, painfully evocative of the transition between childhood and adulthood.

Tyler’s lyrical writing hit so many of the details of growing up in Hawaii pitch perfect—the politics of school bullies and teachers, the endless hours of chores (I so remember scrubbing toilets with Comet and Scott towels and weeding Saturday mornings in heat that felt like standing in a clothes dryer), frustration with siblings who seem to glory in amplifying the problems instead of flying under the radar, conflicting messages between Catholic church teachings and family actions, and the blessed escape an hour in the ocean can be. I particularly enjoyed Tyler’s description of surfing and futzing around in the shore break as a kid. It’s some of the most evocative passages about being in the ocean I’ve ever read.

There’s an argument in literary circles about the difference between books about kids and books for kids, with the educational conceit that kids will read stories about characters their age and a little older, but not younger. While Landon begins the novel as a sixth grader, (well, technically looking back to sixth grade), this book is not for the fourth–seventh grade crowd. My recommendation is for readers grade eight to adult for several reasons.

‘Ewa Which Way is finely crafted as literary fiction and by that I mean it’s rich in symbolism, allegory, metaphor, and has well-developed themes. As entertaining as it is, it’s also perfect for deconstruction in a literature class for kids old enough to appreciate the nuances in the writing. There is much for readers to explore in this novel that goes beyond a simple analysis of plot, character development, and setting. Like To Kill a Mocking Bird, Huck Finn, and The Chosen, ‘Ewa Which Way is a peek into a world few readers know and understand with a storyline that feels universal.  (And yes, I do consider ‘Ewa Which Way  a Pacific Lit equivalent to Huck Finn. Thanks for asking.)

Another challenge is the language—there’s a lot of Pidgin English construction in the dialogue, mainly dis, dat, an’ da oddah ting kind of phrasing. This version of Pidgin is common on ‘Oahu public school playgrounds, and I think ultimately easier for the non-Pidgin speaker to understand than a more a hard-core version of Pidgin liberally sprinkled with words like hammajang, lolo, and pau. In telling his story Tyler used an authentic interpretation of Hawaiian Pidgin English’s sounds and rhythms that native Pidgin speakers will have no trouble reading, but it requires a little more decoding for English-only speakers. I think this extra work puts it out of the range of most mainland elementary and intermediate readers.

A final red flag that it’s for older kids is the occasional swearing, which might make parents and teachers of younger readers uncomfortable. Don’t worry, the language isn’t a  gratuitous Sopranos-bar-of-soap-on-the-tongue fest and it’s used to good effect. Yes, I understand kids know, hear, and use these words, but parents and teachers are the ones who buy the books, and in their eyes, there’s a big difference between what’s appropriate for sixth and eighth grade. It’s the only reason I mentioned it.

I loved this book and can’t recommend it too highly. It’s the kind of novel that makes you think about all the Landons in the world and the DeSilvas next door. Readers looking to remember growing up in Hawaii or wanting to experience life as an island kid are in for a real treat.

‘Ewa Which Way by Tyler Miranda is published by Bamboo Ridge Press and is available in trade paperback at most Hawaii bookstores and Costco or online at Bamboo Ridge Press, SPD, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

crack_seed_5_smallcrack seed

(KRAK-seed)

(n) Pickled, preserved, or dehydrated fruit snacks; can also refer to other local island snacks typically sold at a crack seed store.

Example

Jay’s favorite crack seed was rock salt plum. Char Siu loved lemon peel, but my favorite was candied ginger. ~ Zader, Niuhi Shark Saga

Note: ‘Ōlelo is a Hawaiian word meaning language, speech, word, etc.  To see the current list of Hawaiian and Pidgin words, definitions, and usage please click on

Pidgin Dictionary

 

sniff_cover_blogLater, after his parents were snoring, safe in their bed, Kona tiptoed back to his room and carefully placed the perfume bottle on his desk chair.

Nothing sweeter, he thought.

He double-checked his bedroom door, making sure it was closed.

No way I’m risking it.

 

 

To download the entire story, please click here.

Excerpted from Sniff by Lehua Parker. Copyright © 2013 by Lehua Parker. Excerpted by permission of Lehua Parker, LLC and Lauele Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher or author.

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When you’re allergic to water,
growing up in Hawaii
isn’t always paradise.

With Niuhi sharks,
even out of the water,
you’re not safe.

Everything you thought you knew
about Zader is a  lie.